On the Road Again: Driving Post Spinal Cord Injury


Depending on the severity and level of your injury, many individuals with spinal cord injuries can get behind the wheel again, with the help of some vehicle adaptations. Those with high level cervical injuries can benefit from accessible vehicles they can enter as a passenger as well.

The following are important considerations when making decisions about getting out on the road after a spinal cord injury.

If muscle spasms cause your legs to jerk, you’ll want to find a way to stabilize them while driving, such as strapping them in place or wearing a brace to minimize movement.

The inner front section of a car, with steering wheel and control panel

Many people with spinal cord injuries use hand controls as an alternative to brake and fuel pedals.

If you have lost motor or sensory function to the legs you may need to learn to use hand controls to drive, rather than typical gas and brake pedals. Levels T6 and down typically can use hand controls for fuel and brakes. Those with high level injuries can drive too if their injury is diagnosed as “incomplete” and sufficient function has been preserved.

The cost of hand controls depends on the type of device, the installer, the brand, and the complexity of the install. Adapting vehicles with manual transmissions is more difficult and expensive.

In addition to driving with hand controls, individuals with T6 and lower injuries, and those with higher injuries who are diagnosed as “incomplete” and have appropriate preservation of function, can typically transfer from wheelchair to the driver’s seat.

Others can remain in the wheelchair and lock it into place behind the steering wheel after having the driver’s seat removed and the proper hardware installed.

How do I get a driver’s license after an SCI?

A Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist will access your functional abilities and suggest techniques and car adaptations according to your need.

Ask Occupational Therapy at your local Department of Economic Security where to start.

Your driver rehabilitation specialist will prescribe the necessary car adaptations and equipment. You may get to use simulation to trial various adaptations.

Will I need a special vehicle after my SCI?

Not every vehicle is wheelchair accessible. If the floor can’t be dropped or the roof can’t be raised, or a ramp or lift can’t be installed, you’ll need a new vehicle. Manual wheelchair users may have more options than individuals who use power wheelchairs.

Some vehicle manufacturers offer financial assistance toward the cost of adaptive equipment. Sometimes Vocational Rehabilitation will assist with paying for vehicle modifications, too. Search disability trading zones online and research wheelchair accessible auto sales in your area.

Adaptations for all terrain vehicles are also available for a price. They might include a hoist to transfer your empty wheelchair to the trunk or truck bed, or a lift and locking mechanism to allow off-roading straight from your wheelchair.

Driving is an activity that really provides significant autonomy and independence. Thanks to technology, many people with spinal cord injuries can still participate in this precious past time post injury.